Technical Difficulties is a weekly podcast exploring the often perplexing and broken world of technology, design, and related disciplines, hosted by Gabe Weatherhead and Erik Hess. Rising from the ashes of their previous show Generational, it will likely prove as perplexing and broken as the topics they discuss.
80 episodes
since Dec, 2013


− 080 − A History of Computing with Dr. Drang October 24th, 2014 Internet Archive Dr. Drang returns to explore his background in computing from the late 1970s to today. Along the way we discover what happens when you mess up a punchcard, what Linux was like in the early days, why he uses a Mac today, and his perspectives on the near future of computing. Our Favorite Internet Snowman Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 0:00 Dr. Drang is the pseudonymous and occasionally cranky genius-snowman-engineer behind And Now It’s All This. You can also find him on Twitter: @drdrang. We asked him to join us to discuss his personal computing history and share his thoughts on the future of Apple’s desktop and mobile platforms. NASA Dr. Drang didn’t begin using a computer until he went to college in the early 1980s. The lone computer at his high school was tied up by a data processing class, which was focused on teaching data entry via punchcards in a vocational setting. The computing world was at the dawn of a revolution. While the Apple II had been for sale for a short while at this point, the Commodore 64 wouldn’t be released until 1982. Popularization of home computing had just begun, and the Xerox Star offered one of the first commercially available graphical user interfaces for a cool $75,000 ($195,000 in today’s dollars). It was in this environment that Dr. Drang began his computing journey. Punch Cards and FORTRAN Listen to this section on SoundCloud: 3:35 Dr. Drang’s first exposure to computers was learning FORTRAN in an Introduction to Programming course his Freshman Year of collge. He believes he was one of the last people to learn computing via punch cards and Keypunch Machines. Wikipedia has a thorough write up of the IBM style punched cards. Autopilot Punch cards were quite unforgiving, and if you made a mistake on the keypunch machine you had to go back and re-punch the whole card from the beginning. The top section of the card would print what you were punching in ink, and below that the rectangular holes punched into the card would allow it to be read when pulled into the computer. Often the ink would run out and you couldn’t tell what you’d punched. For some advanced students that didn’t matter because they could read the holes. A Punchcard Before A Fortran Punched Card After One card was used per line of FORTRAN code, and they’d stack up in a bin. Then the cards would be taken to a special window where they’d be taken and run. Later (an hour or more later) you’d get the output back in stacks of folded printer paper. “You’d take them to the High Priests of the Mainframe Computer” If you discovered that there was a bug in your program, you had to go find it and repeat the process. As you’d probably guess, this process took a significant amount of time. “So you’d only get about eight mistakes a day?” Drang thinks that this process has possibly caused him to be more deliberate than he would if he learned computing in an interactive, terminal-based environment. He tends to write more before he tests. Since time on the Keypunch Machine was almost as limited as time on the mainframe, students purchased special pads of paper to write programs out by hand first. Dr. Drang used them for a while before realizing that they weren’t much more helpful than normal paper. Make Mistakes Faster Rich Siegel (of BBEdit fame) used to work for a company called Think Technologies, which made Lightspeed Pascal and LightspeedC for early Macs. They ran an ad with a tagline “Make mistakes faster”, because it was one of the first interactive IDEs that gave you feedback when it experienced a bug. There’s a nice interview with Rich on episode 36 of Debug in which he talks about his days with Th
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